Monday, March 18, 2013

Wonderful Wonder

I'm a middle school teacher.  Bullies are naturally on my daily radar while protecting and celebrating the underdog is ingrained in my teacher DNA.  With that being said, there was no way I was not going to fall in love with the wonderful August Pullman.  He's one of those characters you stumble across only once in a blue moon.  Those particular characters who have the power to steal a forever spot in your heart.  R.J. Palacio created August to remind us all, children and adults alike, of the power of kindness.

Wonder found its way into my hands in an interesting way.  I had heard about the book from a few colleagues who instantly loved it and I had also been reading its critical acclaims.  It was immediately added to my ever-growing list of to-reads but I wasn't sure when I was going to get around to it.  It was at that time that I found a mysterious package in my school mailbox.  I opened it to find a brand new copy of Wonder with a letter from a teacher in Battle Creek Michigan.  Mr. Sharp, a 4th Grade teacher, was so moved by the story of Wonder that he randomly sent a copy to me (and I assume to other teachers as well), encouraging me to read it and relish in its beautiful message. My first thought after reading this lovely letter was, "This must be a sign.  I HAVE to read this book now." And that's just what I did and I'm so grateful for the experience.

August Pullman is a ten-year-old boy who was born with a rare birth defect that left him with a severely disfigured face.  August (better known as Auggie) is about to enroll in public school for the first time as a 5th Grader.  Of course, he's terrified and anticipating the looks of horror from his new classmates when they see his face for the first time.  It reminds me of the terrific movie, Mask, only with younger characters.  Auggie faces his fears of rejection and isolation through the love and strength of his AMAZING parents and older sis, Via.  His family is his anchor and they are the foundation that gives Auggie his courage and big heart.

Needless to say, Auggie's first few months of school are tough.  He is forced to face some serious obstacles that have him second guessing his worth as a human being.  This is more than a lot for a ten-year-old to shoulder. However, through the cracks emerge a few noteworthy characters who turn out to be Auggie's best friends come year's end.  These high-quality friends help hold Auggie up when scary situations arise.  It's heartwarming to watch these friendships grow throughout the story.

Aside from Auggie's courageous battles with bullying and having to identity his self-worth, the real cornerstone of the entire novel is found within a speech given by Auggie's principal, Mr. Tushman near the end of the story.  Mr. Tushman's words are so simply and beautifully written and leave his student body audience (and us readers) with a full heart and open mind. To me, Tushman's speech was Palacio's speech.  This is what Palacio's story is truly about.  Her words are a heartfelt testament to the importance and power of acceptance and kindness.  It is so apparent that Palacio had a deep love for her characters and in turn we, her readers, have no other choice but to fall in love with them too.

For further information about Wonder and to learn about pledging to make a difference, visit Choose Kind.

Have you too had your heart warmed by the wonderful Auggie?  Have you read other powerful anti-bully novels?  I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings.  Do share!